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Gender equality - an objective of flexible labour markets.

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The Hon Peter Reith, MP

Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business

Leader of the House of Representatives


9 June 1999





The promotion and achievement of gender equity in the workplace should be a complementary objective to the pursuit of flexible labour markets in both developing and developed economies.


Mr Reith was speaking to a Ministerial level tripartite meeting of the International Labour Organisation on the subject of 'Let's make gender equality at work a reality' in Geneva, Switzerland attended by the President of the Swiss Federation, Mrs Ruth Dreifuss and the Director General of the ILO Dr Juan Somavia, and Dr Patricia Flor, Chairperson of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.


Mr Reith welcomed the opportunity to highlight Australia's achievements in pursuing gender equity in social, industrial and economic policies. Choice and flexibility within the framework of minimum standards had delivered beneficial outcomes for women in the Australian labour market. He highlighted, on behalf of the Australian Government, the constructive role that equal opportunity plays in a cohesive, fair and balanced social order.


Attached is an abridged version of Minister Reith's statement on gender equality.


For further information contact: Ian Hanke 0419 484 095

















The achievement of gender equality is a ver y important objective. An efficient labour market is often described in terms of productivity but, of course, efficient markets are not an end in themselves. They must serve the needs of individuals and the community at large.


The Australian Government's commitment to achieving equitable outcomes for all employees and protection for vulnerable employees, is reflected in the principal object of our legislation. This includes specific references to respecting and valuing the diversity of the workforce by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of (among others) sex, marital status, family responsibilities, and pregnancy. Another object of the Act is to assist people balance their work and family responsibilities through the development of mutually beneficial work practices with employers.


The Act also provides a number of explicit safeguards to ensure that Australian workers receive equal pay for work of equal value without discrimination based on sex. In addition, there are provisions enabling the spread of part-time employment and provisions to ensure consultation and information sharing in the agreement-making process.


The importance of the legislative framework is highlighted by the dramatic changes that have occurred in Australian society over the last 30 years. The roles of men and women at work and within the family are broadening. While work and family balance is an issue of particular importance for women who are still largely the primary care-givers, men are increasingly seeking more time with their families and a greater share of family responsibility. Family and caring responsibilities are also shifting as a result of changes in demographics with women now comprising 43 per cent of the workforce. Workers with family responsibilities have emerged as a sizeable portion of the labour market, with over 40 per cent of employed men and women in the labour force with dependent children.


Australian employers and employees are increasingly including workplace flexibilities that benefit employees with family responsibilities onto the bargaining agenda. This is evidenced by a report I will be launching later this month which looks at the types and incidents of family friendly policies and practices that exist in Australian workplace today. The report will be available, once released, on my Department's internet website.


The report highlights the importance of flexible working arrangements such as access to part time work, control over start and finish times, and hours of work able to be neg otiated by employees as a means of benefiting employees at all stages of the life cycle, whilst proving cost effective for companies.


By using the flexibilities available in the workplace relations system women, and increasingly men, with family responsibilities are achieving a better integration between their family and working lives. In this way, equality of opportunity is better prov ided by employers to their workers and helps make gender equality at work a reality.



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